Matt Forney
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Redwood to Deadwood: Hitchhiking America Today by Colin Flaherty

book hitchhike book coverColin Flaherty’s been getting praise for his recent book White Girl Bleed a Lot, on the spate of racially motivated black-on-white hate crimes in recent years, but Redwood to Deadwood is his previous book, on a hitchhiking trip he took a couple of years ago. Naturally, this meant I had to buy it. How is it?

B-O-R-I-N-G.

I don’t know how he did it, but Flaherty managed to take a topic as inherently interesting and captivating as cross-continental hitchhiking and make it as sleep-inducing as watching a school board meeting. Redwood isn’t that long, but reading it made me want to chew my fingers off from its sheer dullness. I can barely remember a single thing about the book reading it front to back.

In Flaherty’s defense, Redwood’s pedestrian nature isn’t entirely his fault. Flaherty’s a middle-aged man (53 at the time of his trip; he did it mainly because he hitchhiked when he was a kid and he wanted to see if it could still be done), and I don’t expect a guy with kids to be having the same wild and crazy adventures that a twenty-year old would have. Even still, he manages to kill Redwood with his dry, analytical writing style. Flaherty writes like a disinterested observer being dictated to by someone else, instead of an active participant in the events happening around him. Even when he talks about his older brother who was killed in Vietnam, I couldn’t dredge up any sympathy for the guy.

If the guys in those parts are eager to escape the ennui of their life on the plains, so are the girls. And their first choice is going after guys that are 5 years older, starting when they are 13. Both my companions and many of their friends found themselves on the wrong side of a sheriff’s desk answering questions about their romantic escapades with young girls.

Sometimes they did it. Other times they did not. Telling your parents about imaginary romantic encounters with the local ill-shaven hoods is also a popular pastime on the plains.

Redwood has some redeeming value as things pick up in the second half, and from a hitchhiker’s perspective, there’s some useful practical information in there. For example, I chuckled during the portion where Flaherty was refused entry into Canada for similar reasons as me. Otherwise, feel free to skip this book.

Click here to buy Redwood to Deadwood: Hitchhiking America Today.

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